When I received the e-mail from CSPS offering free tickets to see jazz saxophone player Ray Blue as part of the Legion Arts’ 15th birthday, I jumped at the chance. Sherry and I had seen Ray Blue a couple of years ago with some friends at a Liars Holographic Theatre performance. Liars is a “fake” radio show somewhat in the spirit of Prairie Home Companion with skits and music. The night we saw Ray Blue, it was a special show where the cast got to perform original songs in addition to the skits.
Although Ray Blue was born in Virginia and was raised in New York and currently lives between New York City and Berlin he spends a significant amount of time in Eastern Iowa. This is apparently due to his time spent here studying to get his Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work at the University of Iowa. In addition to the performances at the churches and schools, he also talks on social issues.
The show at CSPS was a record release show for his new album Transvision on the German Neu Klang record label. In addition to the Cedar Rapids show, he would go on to play Munich, Berlin and dates in France. Ray is a critically acclaimed jazz musician and we are very fortunate to have him visit as often as he does. The ensemble who played with Ray were known as “Cross-Continental Spirit” and shared some members with the band of the same name who played on the album. The band included his regular collaborator David Daoud Williams on percussion, Calvin Hill on bass, Sharp Radway on piano, and Gregg Servance on drums. The Transvision album and Cross-Continental Spirit are a project in a classic quartet style with percussion and is a tribute to friendships.
Ray came out dressed in a very regal green outfit in an African or Eastern style. I was surprised a bit as most of the pictures show him in a trademarked blue suit that we’d seen him wearing at the Liars show. Nonetheless, it’s a style he can pull off and complimented his golden sax. The rest of the group was dressed more subdued. The lighting was minimal but lit the performers during their solos and also lit the backdrop from time to time to dramatic effect. CSPS is an art gallery in addition to the cozy performance space. The sound guys did a great job filling the room and kept the levels very comfortable. I forget what a great space CSPS is to see shows. The best-kept secret in Cedar Rapids indeed! Unfortunately there wasn’t very many people there– maybe twenty or so, and I wonder how many got free tickets? The group played a second show on Saturday night. I hope that show had more of a turnout.
The show pulled all of the songs from the Transvision album and also pulled a couple of other songs– a standard cover of “In A Sentimental Mood” by Duke Ellington that Ray put on his album Always With A Purpose. Ray demonstrated his jaw-dropping circular breathing technique a couple of times. He is able to hold a note while inhaling at the same time. It seems like he can hold the note indefinately!
The first set was a bit more subdued and felt a bit like a warmup. But, the second set had a lot more energy and I could tell the band had gotten its groove. Sherry and I left the show that night amazed. I felt like maybe this show was like experiencing Miles Davis or John Coltrane back in the Fifties and Sixties playing the Jazz clubs in New York. I picked up the new CD, and it is able to stand up next to my Coltrane CD’s in my regular Jazz rotation.
Ray Blue will be back in Iowa in February of 2007 for another couple Liars shows, and according to their website the first show is already sold out.